The judges' reports;Primary and secondary schoolbook award for music;TES competition

12th March 1999 at 00:00
PRIMARY SCHOOLBOOK AWARD FOR MUSIC - WINNER: THREE RAPPING RATS. By Kaye Umansky. A amp; C Black pound;8.99. SHORTLIST: LET'S MAKE TUDOR MUSIC. By Lucie and Roddy Skeaping. Stainer amp; Bell Teacher's and pupil's book. pound;14.99. CAROUSEL PRIMARY MUSIC - Reception Level. By Joan Child, Richard Crozier and Ken Storry. Ginn. Teacher's resource book pound;19.50. Group discussion book pound;23.50. THE SECONDARY SCHOOLBOOK AWARD FOR MUSIC - WINNER: Singing Matters. By Patrick Allen. Heinemann. pound;43.99. Photocopiable pack

Children are still required both to enjoy and to understand what remains of national curriculum music. We looked for books that would help their teachers help them to do so. We were sent just over 30 works, in all sizes, from bulky ring-binders to minimal paperbacks, and in all modes, from the embarrassingly imprecise to the wonderfully liberating.

In the primary category, we wanted to find books that were both accurate and accessible; that provided the means for teachers to move on from the things they already know; that displayed the expertise of practitioners sharing their accomplishments with a wider world; and that evinced some special quality that wasn't a mere monument to costly ingenuity.

In Three Rapping Rats, we found enough of these virtues to merit the award. It uses the simple but effective formula of setting new words to old tunes, and entwining them into traditional stories which are themselves used to stimulate freshly composed or improvised music. It doesn't come with an expensive CD or with elaborate colour pictures, but it does offer an approach to music that can be used throughout the school year - by all teachers who can read a few pages and hum a simple tune.

We had seen it used effectively with children ranging from the mainstream to those with moderate learning difficulties. Minor problems might be found in some of the ad hoc notation and the irregularity of upbeats in some of the songs. But far outweighing these are the book's ability to support the work of the literacy hour while maintaining music's own autonomy and providing for the creation of magical new sounds.

Let's Make Tudor Music has many opposing excellences. This is a primer for a specific termly topic; it has a beautifully produced CD performed by fine musicians who would be as much at home on Radio 3 as they are here. The cover of the children's book shows men and women of different ages and ethnic backgrounds performing all the instruments used on the recording. That generous and cheerful eclecticism is matched in the ideas.

We learn something about town, country and courtly life; we encounter ballads, dances, and the sounds of the playhouse; we are invited not just to sing but to play, invent, mime and even sympathise with queens who were virginal, adulterous or merely married. This is an excellent example of thoughtful and persuasive cross-curricular innovation.

Carousel is the final book that completes a well-known and popular series. It has many small a la carte musical activities that can be served in a menu determined by the teacher's taste; but the "desirable outcomes" are clearly indicated and there is a firm basis to all the ideas in a judicious sense of children's development. We liked the range of world music in the listening materials, just as we admired the inventive use of those tough survivors, traditional nursery rhymes.

Other books to catch our favourable attention were Helen MacGregor's Listening to Music History, Pauline Adam's Sounds Musical and Wendy Hart's Lively Music 4-7.

A few warning words to some editors: glockenspiels and xylophones are not the same - too many glocks can be a jangling nightmare in a small classroom. Nor do most xylophones have "black notes". Calypso is a term that needs as precise a use as concertante; it doesn't mean "from the Caribbean". Two further pleas would be: don't bring in pop music if your taste is fixed around 1968, and don't bring in historical and cultural irrelevancies or dates that belong in a dictionary or a tourist guide.

When it came to the secondary books, our range of choice was smaller and our decision immediate. We knew that hard-bitten, sceptical teenagers have firm group tastes and won't be condescended to by well-intentioned teachers, but also that once aroused, their enthusiasm can be powerful.

Singing Matters made an immediate impact. We liked its loose-leaf format. "Try these songs," it seems to say, "but add your own, too." We appreciated its accurate and positive advice on warm-ups and exercises, its appendix of chants and social songs for informal occasions, its well-considered suggestions on the use of keyboards and instruments, its flexibility in the matter of pitching vocal lines for breaking voices. All these attested to the planning and judgment of an experienced teacher.

But above all, we liked the great range of material on offer, combined with the thoughtful ways in which melodic structures are used to reflect the singing strength of the class, and coaching strategies are outlined for challenging higher expectations in singing. From Schubert's "Trout" to "Barbara Ann", from "Loch Lomond" to the Zulu "Siyahamba", from "Wonderwall" to a 16th-century pavane, there is enough here to keep spirits high and walls echoing term after term.

It was hard on dependable compilations like the new Music Matters 11-14 to come up against such outstanding opposition. But Singing Matters did for us what music should do, as the national curriculum rubric still commands; it gave us knowledge and it gave us pleasure.


JUDGES: Michael Burnett senior lecturer Southlands College, Wimbledon, south London

Leonora Davies inspector for music for the London borough of Haringey

Tom Deveson music advisory teacher for the London borough of Southwark

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